Juneau laundry thrives since 1895

PHOTO/Alaska State Library/PCA 01-1171
Gold brought most people to Juneau near the end of the 19th century, but for E.R. Jaeger it was the lure of laundry.

Four generations and 106 years later, Jaeger’s Alaska Laundry & Dry Cleaners is the oldest family run business in the state.

Jaeger was the youngest of a dozen children and the only one in the family with a college education, said great-grandson Neil MacKinnon, who operates the family laundry business now.

At 27, Jaeger traveled from his home in Eureka, Wis., to Tacoma, Wash., to work in his brother’s laundry. After a two-year internship, he decided to open his own laundry in either Alaska or Hawaii.

Alaska won by the toss of a coin.

Juneau already was a booming gold town and fledgling fishing community by the time Jaeger showed up in 1895. He purchased Juneau Laundry and renamed it Alaska Steam Laundry. The laundry had been in business for about two years in a log cabin behind the Baranof Hotel.

The laundry was powered by a huge steam engine, which ran washing machines and heated water. Commercial dryers had not yet been invented.

"Miners, prospectors and fishermen worked hard and got dirty,’’ MacKinnon said. "People had to be clean. It was the first line against disease."

Jaeger’s laundry turned out to be a gold mine in more ways the one.

Small amounts of gold that had washed out of miners’ pockets and clothes were routinely found in drain traps, MacKinnon said.

"It was certainly worth doing their laundry in those days,’’ MacKinnon said.

Jaeger often grubstaked miners, and he made and lost many fortunes, MacKinnon said.

Jaeger’s only child, Hazel, married Simpson MacKinnon, who took over the business early in the 20th century. The couple’s son, James Simpson "Skip’’ MacKinnon then ran the laundry until the 1970s.

Neil MacKinnon, his brother John and sister Kathleen grew up with the business.

"Our first playpen was a laundry cart,’’ Neil MacKinnon said. "We began life by looking at the world over the edge of it.’’

Neil MacKinnon had just graduated from college with a degree in mining engineering, when he was asked by his father to help with the family business in 1972. His younger siblings were still in school at the time.

The laundry’s location has moved several times over the years to its present location at Eleventh Street and Glacier Avenue. Behind the laundry is a separate Laundromat. A second dry cleaning branch that features a drive-through is in the Mendenhall Valley. There are about 30 people on the laundry’s payroll.

The company’s subsidiary Alaska Sterile Laundry Service is at the Lemon Creek Correction Center. The prison-operated facility cleans linen and laundry for Bartlett Regional Hospital.

photo: focus
12/02/2001 - 8:00pm